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How to Choose a Mentor in Five Steps

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If you talk to most executives about the path they took to success, one lever that seems to come up consistently is their finding and relying on effective mentors. The mentors gave these people a range of help that got them over professional hurdles. Just two of many benefits could be:

  • A sounding board to hash out challenges, and explore successes and failures dispassionately. The mentor was usually effective at talking their mentees down from emotional highs, with a focus on “recognize the real problem,” “how can you fix that the right way?” and “what’s next?”
  • A source of connections that can open doors to either needed resources or new opportunities.

If mentors are a critical element of career success, how do you find and keep them?

Step 1: Does your organization have a formal mentoring program, through which this resource can be tapped? If such a program exists, you must take advantage of it.

Step 2: Also seek outside mentors, who can stay with you throughout a series of career moves, even between organizations. Explore your alumni and other personal and professional networks. Find people you know with similar career paths and aspirations and ask about their mentor search. Get recommendations!

Step 3: Create a list of likely mentors, and ask for a chance to interview them.

Be prepared to have substantive discussions during the interview about your own 3-5 year career goals, your professional values, and why this person may fit well with you within a mentoring relationship. What are you seeking from this person at this point in your professional journey?

Step 4: Recognize that this is a big commitment of time and energy for both of you. You are asking permission to inject your personal and career needs into their lives for a number of hours each month. Make sure the mentor you choose is excited about that, and seems ready to be there for you.

Step 5: Prepare yourself for complete emersion in what we call the pursuit of truth, which is the greatest value you can get from a productive mentoring relationship.

  • Frank communication as a foundation. You must be clear about your goals and values, and communicate how they may be evolving. How do your values impact your career goals? Be prepared to have your goals challenged when they seem to conflict with your core values. Values and goals must be aligned for you to sustain the energy and commitment needed to progress in a career.
  • Openness to hard questions, and willingness to respond with honest answers. Why are you having trouble with a particular person? How did the issue arise and grow? Who is really at fault? What could you give up to make the relationship healthier? Why are you struggling with a particular assignment? Can you break down the smaller issues that are inhibiting your progress?
  • Listen with both ears. Truly listen to, and internalize, these challenging questions and the advice that may flow from your answers. The best mentors give you few answers; they guide you through a process that takes you to your own answers. Questions you explore with a mentor include:
    • What are all the issues hindering your advancement?
    • Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill sets? If the mentor cannot provide that guidance, with whom could the mentor connect you to gain that knowledge or skill?
    • What other opportunities should you be open to, or even actively pursue, at this point in your career?

Help Leadership Skill CTAAn effective mentor will help connect you to the resources you need to fill gaps, make new professional friends, and pursue the right advancement opportunities, all based on your values and goals.

A great mentor will accelerate your career. The keys to making the relationship work are knowing exactly what you want (at least preliminarily), pursuing the truth in your conversations, and choosing a mentor who clearly is ready to stay actively involved, be supportive and always honest with you.

If you need help developing a plan to establish your own mentorships, ask Brooke and Dave what they think!

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